Have you ever wondered, “Who lives above that place?” Introducing Life Above.
You may not know them by name, but you definitely know Milon, Panna II, and Royal by sight: they’re the Bangladeshi-Indian restaurants with all the Christmas lights that share the same building on First Avenue between Fifth and Sixth Streets.
In between Milon and Panna II — flanked by two sidewalk barkers competing to pull people in — is a door that leads to 16 apartments, including the second-floor studio where Lawrence Chance, 50, has lived for 20 years. He recently welcomed us in to discuss the upsides and downsides of life above the iconic East Village businesses. (In case you’re wondering: no, his apartment didn’t smell like curry.)
It’s the ideal thing, living over those restaurants. All the food’s pretty similar between the restaurants. It’s like my favorite food in the neighborhood. It’s pretty cheap, too. Especially now, it’s like all the restaurants in this neighborhood are getting a lot more expensive.
I come home from work, I can go to the kitchen and give them five bucks or whatever and they’ll scoop out a pan of biryani for me. I don’t have to do anything. If I don’t go down and pick it up, they’ll come bring it up to my apartment.
I have to alternate. I have to have a rotation. I can’t go to any one, cause the other ones will get upset, so I have to go to the other one the next time. It’s a rotation so I don’t offend them.
Those guys know more about me than anybody, really. They know everybody that comes in. Everybody that goes out. They’re all good. It’s just those guys, they stand out in front, they’re like barkers. So I see them everyday, we always chat. When I first moved in one guy started calling me Mr. Oxford. He insisted that we had both gone to Oxford together even though I’ve never gone to Oxford. I doubt he did either. He thought I looked British or something so he called me Mr. Oxford. Then they all started calling me Mr. Oxford for like two or three years.
Then somehow they started calling me Uncle. They would say “Hey, Uncle” every time I come in. Then recently, the last five years, it turned into Chacha, which is, I don’t know what language they speak, but that’s the translation to uncle. So everyday at least one or two people call me Chacha as I’m coming in. And it’s gotten to the point where even, I could be walking like five blocks up the street and someone’s going “Hey Chacha, what’s up.”
The only pet peeve is the birthday song. It’s like three times a night. They turn the lights off and then they crank up the birthday song at high volume. So like two or three times a night you can hear it ringing out from down stairs.
I don’t talk to any of the neighbors that are really as crazy about it as me. Some of them are upset by just the volume of people. Sometimes on like Saturday night you have to fight up the stairs. It doesn’t bother me, because I like this neighborhood, I like that sort of energy. So I don’t know why you’d want to live in this neighborhood if you’re easily offended by that; people drinking a lot and acting crazy.
As told to Ted Simmons.